(Participants take part in a plenary session of the 27th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. )
The realization of the economic community of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by the end of 2015 takes center stage at the 27th summit of the bloc being held here on Saturday and Sunday.
The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the first of its kind in Asia, will serve as a milestone in the bloc's integration by ushering in a new starting point for cooperation in the region.
The AEC is set to transform the 10-member group, comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, into a dynamic region with a single market and production base, and free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and capital, thus opening new opportunities for businesses, investors and better positioning ASEAN for integrating with the economic globalization.
The AEC will not be accomplished at one stroke and ASEAN has worked for many years to lay a solid foundation for it.
At the international level, ASEAN, since its founding in 1967, has been pursuing the foreign policy of self-reliance, neutrality and non-alignment which has created a favorable external environment for its development. It has also been seeking to have a bigger say in regional and international affairs through cooperation and coordination.
Inside the bloc, ASEAN has dedicated itself to seeking political solution to issues in its member states, leading the region to stability which is the precondition for its development.
In the process of its own development and in handling the relations among its member states, the bloc has forged the "ASEAN Way" -- treating each other equally, hammering out consensuses through consultations, accommodating each other's interests and concerns, openness and inclusiveness and win-win results. These principles have united the peoples and promoted the stability in the region.
To accelerate its development and achieve prosperity, ASEAN created a free trade area in 1992, gearing toward the attainment of a common goal: reducing and eliminating tariffs on trade, with few exceptions, to better facilitate trade and cut down the cost of doing business to make the region more competitive and efficient.
ASEAN has also signed free trade agreements with its dialogue partners such as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India and advocated to start negotiations with the six countries on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with the aim of concluding negotiations by the end of 2015, contributing to the economic integration of the area.
Yet several challenges remain to be met in realizing the AEC, including narrowing development divide, removing barriers to trade in sensitive areas, eliminating non-tariffs and promoting greater labor mobility of skilled workers.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the media ahead of the summit that the implementation rate of the AEC blueprint measures had been a highly commendable 92.7 percent.
"Some 469 measures have been implemented with 37 pending, and some will be addressed on a priority basis early next year."
"ASEAN might have missed or may miss some deadlines, but in general we are moving strongly ahead," the prime minister said.
The leaders from the 10-member group have reaffirmed their commitment to establishing the AEC by the end of this year. As the deadline is just around the corner, they have also promised to speed up their efforts for this end.
Taken as a whole, ASEAN ranks the seventh largest global economy with a collective GDP of over 2.4 trillion U.S. dollars and a growth rate of 4.5 percent, well above the latest global growth estimation of 3.5 percent.
The creation of the AEC is definitely one thing to look forward to. Integration may have birth pains at the beginning but at the end of the day, there are many opportunities that each member state can take advantage of, and that the peoples of ASEAN will benefit from.